In May 2021, Hajer Sharief delivered the keynote of the Stockholm forum on peace and development. In her address, Hajer tackled important topics related to peace and security including the role of women and youth in peace building. Additionally, in her keynote, Hajer called on the global peace and development community to start “doing things differently” and to change the practices and processes that have proven not to work.
To listen to Hajer’s full keynote, visit the following link
Below is the full transcript of Hajer Sharief’s keynote:
“Thank you SIPRI for inviting me to join you today.
I truly struggled to put this keynote together. Because I was thinking after 9 years, what more can I say that I have not already said, and what more can I say that this group of experts does not already know. So I decided to share with you what I feel as a team member, and as a colleague of yours that happens to wear two hats, being a victim of wars and armed conflicts, and being a peace activist.
At the age of 19, when I became actively engaged in peace and development, I thought, wow, there is already this well-developed field that has the resources and expertise needed to change lives for better and improve the quality of life everywhere.
But today, I must say I am disappointed and on the edge of losing hope in some of the processes and practices within the field of peace and development. Because honestly if we do not start having a closer look at what we have failed to achieve instead of focusing on and glorifying what we have managed to succeed in, then I’m afraid a time will come where we all will lose hope, and give up. But I certainly hope that it does not happen. That is why it is important for us in this forum to reflect on how we can do better.
In my soon to be ten years of activism for peace, I have attended and participated in many, many workshops and events discussing how to advance human rights. How to advance women’s rights, especially in conflict countries! How to ensure that young people’s voices are heard and taken seriously in peace and security processes, and so on. And the one thing I kept hearing everywhere I went is that “people are afraid of change!”, and “people” here is a reference to all other regular people who are not actively involved and engaged in peace and development.
And I partly agree with that, people are afraid of change, people are afraid of doing things differently. But I also think we- who work on peace and development- are also afraid of change, and we are afraid of doing our work differently even when we have proven to ourselves many times that some of our current practices are not working. For example, we know that peace can not be achieved when 2/3 of the society is excluded- women and youth – and yet the system supports, oversees, designs, facilitates and celebrates peace processes that only brings one gender from one generation to the peace table.
We are afraid of change and of doing things differently to an extent that even when we are convinced that women and young people should directly participate in peace processes, we go about finding different ways to engage them on the sidelines of the process instead of simply including them at the peace table.
The more years that pass, the more I engage and participate with the international system of peace and development, the more I realise that we are as much change-phobic as those who are not involved and engaged. To their defence, they are afraid of change maybe because they do not have all the knowledge needed to convince them that the change we seek is for the benefit of everyone. But what is our excuse?
I believe we are afraid of change because we are afraid to fail. However, working on peace and development is unlike any other field. This is a field we join because of our personal values, morals and principles. The international system for peace and development is also built on these values, morals and principles, so if a certain process or practice fails we take it personal.
While this fear is coming from a moral place, I consider it dangerous! Because it blinds us, it makes us miss out on opportunities that might accelerate achieving peace and development, and most importantly it threatens the credibility and legitimacy of our work in the eyes of the people we want to serve.
Denzel Washington said and I quote “just because we are doing a lot, it does not mean we are getting a lot done”. And this is exactly how I feel now, ten years after being part of this global movement working on peace and development. We are doing a lot, but are we getting a lot done?
Let me share with you my answer, No! I do not think so. Because the gains we have made, in my opinion, do not compensate for the work and efforts we have put in, and most importantly the personal sacrifices we have made for this work to succeed.
And we will not get a lot done until we reform and restructure some of our ways of achieving peace and development. An example of a process that we can reform and re-design is the formal peace process and who gets to sit at the peace table.
We need to design a peace table where no single group can be the majority, and no single group alone would have the upper hand in the decision-making.
We need to ensure that women and young people get to the peace and that there is a power balance between the people sitting at the table, and around it.
The re-design of the peace table must not only be on basis of equality alone, but equity should be the guiding principle when designing any peace processes.
So today, while we discuss compound risk, I want us to not forget a deadly risk, the risk of losing hope and trust in our systems, processes and work for peace and development. And to help mitigate this risk i suggest that
To conclude, I hope all of us will be able to think of this question, are we getting a lot done? And when we answer this question, then all the risks that will be discussed in this forum will start appearing on them.”